WASHINGTON.– The attack at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., is a “call to action” to defend the rights of gays and Latino gays violated as a double minority, and defeat at the polls those who stoke hatred, said activists this Tuesday, two days after the attack.
“Pulse” nightclub, frequented by members of the LGBTQ community, had been a space where they could freely express their identity and culture without fear, and the attack has particularly shaken the Latino gay community, making up over 1.4 million in the U.S., according to the Williams Institute of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).
But that world ended early Sunday when Omar Mateen broke into the club, heavily armed, and killed 49 people and wounded 53 others before being killed by police.
Ninety percent of the victims were young Latinos, mainly from Puerto Rico, newcomers or second or third generation from Brooklyn and Central Florida, although there are also some from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, according to activists.
The attack is a cruel reminder of how, in a country with a history of intolerance toward minorities, the Latino gay community suffers marginalization and discrimination on several fronts: sexual orientation, gender identity, a minority language, immigration status and, in some cases, because they belong to the working class.
It is, according to activists and relatives of victims interviewed by this newspaper, a volatile mix that ultimately leaves this already vulnerable group in a state of helplessness and permanent inequality.
Mobilization Against Hatred
“Our freedom was violated. Here, in Orlando, it seems that there was a war: there is a war of hatred against the LGBT community; there is desolatio, but we refuse to live in fear,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, president of the group “Puerto Rico for All,” a pro-gay and social justice group on the island.
The gay community activist Pedro Julio Serrano, traveled from Puerto Rico to help the victims and families: “there is desolation, but we refuse to live in fear.”
Serrano traveled to Orlando, a city with a high Boricua concentration — there are more than 300,000 Puerto Ricans, — to reach out to the LGBT community at this time of mourning.
“How are we going to respond to this attack? With our vote, because this election is a choice between love and hate, and we will not allow that, with people like Donald Trump, intolerance and hatred continues in this country,” said Serrano, 41.
— George IGLER (@georgeigler) June 14, 2016
Sandra Algarín, president of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida, and volunteer at “The Center.org” a pro-gay group in Orlando, said her group will mobilize against leaders like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who shows himself as a “friend” of the gay community, but during his campaign “has done more to stoke hatred and xenophobia” in the U.S.
“We have a plan of action to send the message that we are more united than ever, that something so monstrous is leaving something good … we will hold accountable those legislators who will tell us what they’re doing in order to protect us and control arms,” Algarín said.
Also the United Nations have requested a stop to the violence derived from the proliferation of the arms in civil hands.
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) June 14, 2016
In addition to mobilize against the National Rifle Association (NRA), The Center.org has made vigils and established legal, humanitarian and accommodation assistance for relatives of victims, and provides help in processing visas for those in need to travel to the U.S. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civic groups also have come out in defense of the gay community.
The group “Equality Florida” has raised more than $1.3 million for the victims and their families, while unions such as the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are also mobilized to help victims and to stop hatred.
The SEIU has about 7,000 members in Central Florida, many of them Latinos.
“We are determined to do whatever is necessary to mobilize our community and our members to call a halt to hatred and violence. Our top priority is to provide assistance to victims … but we also want public policies to end this nonsense,” said Rocio Saenz, executive vice president of SEIU.
Aside from The Center.org, other civic groups around the country have denounced anti-gay violence through social networks with labels like “#EnoughisEnough,” “#PulseOrlando,” “#LoveWins” and “#SomosOrlando,” and prepare more vigils throughout the week.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), 28% of the crimes committed against the gay community in 2015 affected Latinos.
And of the 5,479 hate crimes in 2014, 18.7% were committed against gays, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Including the attack in Orlando, the “Human Rights Campaign” (HRC) group has documented four major attacks against the LGBTQ community that have left a trail of dead and wounded.
— Hana Mystras (@HanaMystras) June 14, 2016
The attack in Orlando “is just a small hint to a deep well of hatred that exists in societies throughout the world” against gays, said Charles Radcliff, of the Office of Human Rights of the United Nations, warning that there are no precise reliable figures because many crimes are not reported.
Pro-gay activists say that, so far in 2016, about 500 gay, lesbian and transgender people have been murdered in the United States.
Mateen, 29, a U.S.-born Muslim of Afghan parents, frequented the club at least a dozen times, and allegedly had an interest in gays. He used the application Jack’d regularly, ? something forbidden by his religion.
It is not known for sure if Mateen was gay, if he was carrying an inner storm embarrassment for being gay, and if that internalized homophobia led him to commit the attack.
Psychologists say that the “escape” from homosexuality is not incompatible with the frustration of wanting to embrace that sexual identity and not doing it for religious or social restrictions.
The result? The worse massacre in modern history of the U.S.
“We are in a crisis. This was an attack, not only against our brothers and sisters of the LGBTQ community, but also against our Hispanic community,” said Zoe Colon, Florida director of the Hispanic Federation, a national community group, during a press conference .
Obama, the “Comforter-in-Chief”
Like so many other times since 2009, President Barack Obama acted as “comforter in chief” when he traveled to Orlando last Thursday, likely with a message of hope and solidarity with the families of the victims and stressing the resilience of the American people .
On his third day of testimony on the attack, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to combat terrorism inside and outside the U.S., without violating the founding values of the country and respecting the civil rights of ethnic and religious minorities.
While Obama’s trip will not bring the victims back to life, campaigners claimed that at least the perspective of his presence sends the message that the LGBT community “is not alone”.